To be fair, I might as well be asking how Facebook controls the look and feel of most social media; or why all smartphones are basically copies of the iPhone. It’s a simple case of icon vs. pretender.
Once in a while an object or an idea comes along that completely capture the public imagination. The Jaguar E Type. The Ford Mustang. The Coke bottle. The iPhone. The iPhone is so perfect, such an intuitive piece of design, that all handheld communications devices have to follow its lead or suffer the consequences.
It’s the same thing you see in website design, where a specific successful site (like Facebook) dictates the way other sites work, look and feel. Amazon has left its mark on the ecommerce sites you use today; social media sites look like Facebook, or borrow its functionality.
The original functionality of the Windows Phone was a disaster. Trying to borrow Windows functions in a smartphone is like trying to carry a library around on your back: the information is there, but who would want all the effort of trying to extract it? Interestingly enough, Windows’ partnership with Nokia sees two previous titans of the communications industries struggling to keep up with companies that were once their less important cousins: Nokia’s new Lumia is the company’s last-ditch attempt to get back on the bandwagon.
The moral of the story is simple and one that ought to be heeded by the new kingpins. Android, BlackBerry and iPhone have had varying shelf lives, with the iPhone heading the pack for longevity in the era of smartphone technology – but they are all only as potentially successful as their current technology.
Yes, iPhone is still delivering intuitive and engaging graphic interfaces, which guide the user through multiple applications and functions to easily find what he or she wants to do. Yes, Android is mimicking a lot of this functionality to great effect. And yes, Windows Phone’s initial decision to ignore the same interface and feel is the reason why it has had to be redesigned from scratch. In the long term, though, there will be other pretenders – and one of those will win the crown.
Apple’s previously unblemished record for innovation and design genius has suffered a few minor dents in recent months. Nothing major, certainly nothing in the same league as Microsoft having to take the Windows Phone 7 back to the drawing board and start again – but one or two glitches or misdirected apps have popped up and briefly made headlines. Not that those headlines will mean a great deal to the average Apple customer, who is a devoted fan and one of the most loyal brand evangelists you will ever meet.
Microsoft’s absence from the scene (it has been away redesigning the Windows Phone!) has proved pretty expensive for it in terms of market share. In 2010 Microsoft had a 9 per cent share of the smartphone market, while Android was making out better at 26 percent – now, Android takes nearly 50 percent and Microsoft has just over 5.
It’s interesting to note that the company with the biggest advertising presence (Apple) boasts a much smaller share than Android – which came onto the scene later and which still appears to be mimicking the Apple design. The key, of course, is that Android has mimicked Apple’s iPhone while Microsoft made the rather arrogant mistake of assuming that something so popular could be ignored in favour of its clunky original design.
Android is currently on the upswing of the wave that Apple are now riding the other side of. Android handsets are entering the golden age of communication device design, when all the original glitches have been found and ironed out – and extra functionality has been added to make the phone owner’s experience even more intuitive and absorbing.
Apple’s handsets, on the other hand, passed their pinnacle two versions ago – the newest iPhone seems to exist more to make current customers go out and spend more money on new toys than because they have anything extra to give. Though the latest screen and better camera looks like it may prove a turning point in regenerating new interest. As for Microsoft – it has a long, long way to go if it is going to catch up.